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Joseph Watson’s banners commemorate Berkley Square’s place in history

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Among West Las Vegas’ many historic gems is a cozy subdivision built in the 1950s known as the Berkley Square Historic District. Its importance to Las Vegas is undeniable: The neighborhood of 148 ranch homes is not only the first black subdivision built in Nevada, but one that was designed and financed by African-Americans, including architect Paul Revere Williams, who designed the La Concha hotel and was the first black fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

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A Portrait of Berkley Square
Through February 25, Wednesday & Thursday, noon-4 p.m.; Saturday, noon-6 p.m., Joseph Watson Collection, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., 858-733-2135, josephwatsoncollection.com.

Beyond all of that is the role Berkley Square played in a highly segregated Las Vegas. “Times were hard back then. For black folks to buy a home, it was impressive,” Councilman Ricki Barlow explained at a formal unveiling of commemorative banners and plaques last Saturday. Joining Barlow were west-side residents who spoke about the community of black businessmen, lawyers, casino workers and servicemen, and the kind of neighborhood that had everything one needed, including a doctor around the corner.

When the city chose artist Joseph Watson to tell the story of the Berkley Square Historic District, the decision seemed natural. The artist, illustrator and gallery owner is known for capturing community narratives through his drawings and paintings, often portraying vibrant and populated urban scenes or contemplative cityscapes.

His Berkley Square paintings are represented in 34 banners hanging from streetlamps in the neighborhood. They render the spirit of Berkley Square through illustrations of well-dressed residents on their morning walk to church, construction workers building the homes (which sold for around $7,700) and portraits of Williams and Thomas L. Berkley, the financier from California for whom the neighborhood is named.

The banners repeat throughout the neighborhood of contemporary ranch homes, some with small porches and decorative gates, exuding a sense of history and pride in Berkley Square, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. The originals are on display at the Joseph Watson Gallery inside the Arts Factory.

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Kristen Peterson

Kristen Peterson joined the Las Vegas Sun in 1998 as a general assignment reporter. In 2003, she turned her focus ...

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